Harmony Particles: Rebranding Air Pollution

As Beijing splutters under a combined smog blanket and sandstorm, China Daily reports a new initiative to choose a Chinese name for PM2.5 (sub-2.5 micrometer) pollutant particles:

Because PM 2.5 uses the Latin alphabet, the China National Committee for Terms in Sciences and Technologies is conducting research and gauging opinions from all walks of life to name the term properly, it said.

People nationwide are contributing creative terms, including ‘Beijing grey’, ‘toxic dust’, ‘air pollution index’ and ‘cough trigger’.

In addition to the people who are busy brainstorming, some also suggest that the government should focus more on relieving the dense smog rather than providing a fancy name.

PM2.5 was among 239 English terms and abbreviations whose inclusion in a new edition of the Contemporary Chinese Dictionary last year prompted a letter of protest from more than 100 scholars. GDP and NBA were also seen as linguistic pollutants threatening the long-term health of Chinese script, but globalization and pinyin text input make the Roman alphabet’s excision unlikely.

Some netizens took the issue less seriously. From a selection by Southern Metropolis Daily, via CDT Chinese:


@_vivo: Let’s call them national fitness supplement particles 2.5 (of the extremely small and non-harmful variety).


@weishijiang: These bricksperts aren’t thinking about pollution control, they’re just wasting their time. Why not change all the symbols into math textbooks into Chinese characters, or all the formulae for chemical reactions … even better, why not change all the programming code in computer textbooks into Chinese script?


@pingxinerlun: I’m laughing my head off at this discussion: Beijing cough particles, toxic dust, 2:30 p.m., Beijing gray, Little 250 … I think these bricksperts might be planning to raise the PM2.5 particles as pets. I don’t see the point in changing a term that everyone already understands and accepts.


@woxiJchen: According to CCTV custom, it should be called “pi emu er dian wu” [“PM2.5” phonetically transcribed into Chinese].


@shaomingbo: Don’t fret. I suggest that officials call them “Happiness Particles.”

Alia at Offbeat China rounded up some of the more colorful suggestions contributed by netizens, but conceded that the rather drab Xi keli wu 细颗粒物 (“fine particles”) appeared to be the frontrunner.

  • “Shitizen 250” – PM is the initials of Pi Min (屁民) which, in Chinese, means citizens who have been treated by their government like shit [CDT translates this term as “rabble“]; and 250 is a slang in Chinese for the dumb and stupid.
  • “Happy Particles with Chinese Characteristics”
  • “National Secret” – Background: last week, China Environmental Bureau refused to dislocate soil pollution data in the country, saying the information is state secret.
  • “GDP Chain Index”
  • “Harmony Particle”

See more suggestions at Offbeat China and more on PM2.5 and air pollution via CDT.